The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

What’s A Few Hundred Years Between Friends?

Lions For Lambs was a fairly unmemorable, if well-intentioned, film dealing with some aspects of the war in Afghanistan. In it there is a scene in which Tom Cruise, playing a hawkish US Senator, tries to sell the broader motivation behind the war. At one point, he talks about the absolute necessity of fighting “crazy Islamists who want to turn the clock back 500 years”.

I mention this because it’s a common idea – it’s stated and implied in the media and in the more right of centre academic discussions of Islam, Islamism and the threat represented by elements of the Moslem world. The basic thesis is that the Islamic world is stuck in the mediaeval period, having chosen to regress there, and wishes to drag us all back there with them.

There are two blindingly arrogant assumptions required to underpin such a world view.

  1. The development of the world should be measured solely along the timeline of Western history.
  2. Western Civilisation represents the current apogee of human development.

There is, however, one key problem with both of these assumptions, and that problem is a matter of approximately 600 years. The simple fact of the matter is that the Islamic world as we know it today began its development five or six centuries after what we used to call Christendom and now, thankfully, label “The Western World”.

So, as an exercise, let’s take a look at some basic timelines for the Umma and Christendom, each starting from its respective ‘year dot’.

Christendom Islam
Year Zero(ish) 

A woman from an outpost of the Roman Empire falls inconveniently and/or inexplicably pregnant. She claims to have been impregnated by a golden shower and told about it by the Archangel Gabriel, who, as we go on, would appear to have been a very busy person.


A man who sells holy souvenirs claims to have been visited by the Archangel Gabriel who, for some reason, dictates to him a book of verse containing some fairly vague guidance about life, the universe and everything.


After a snappy three hundred odd years of proselytization, the Roman Empire becomes Christian. Sort of. Depends how you define it, really, but, officially, it’s Christian. Which means so is most of the Western World, whether it likes it or not.


At the time, it was largely ‘not’.


The extended family of Gabriel’s impromptu amanuenses spend their time invading Sham, North Africa, Turkey, Syria and, finally, Spain, thus collecting pretty much all the regions that the previous collapsed empires either couldn’t or couldn’t be bothered holding on to. They officially make these places Moslem but, unlike the Empires of Christendom, penalise non-Moslems by adding taxes rather than removing limbs.


This period is a little bit dark and vague. Essentially, most of Europe spends an inordinate period of time invading its neighbours and infighting in the aftermath of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, they are too busy doing this to keep good or detailed records of a lot of it, which is probably why Merovingians and others from this period are so favoured by conspiracy theorists.


Eventually, several hero-kings emerge to re-unite the European regions that we spent the previous few hundred years tearing apart. The most prominent of these was Charlemagne, who advanced the interests of the Church and the culture of the West, often using nothing more complicated than fire and the sword.


This period is a little bit dark but not at all vague. Essentially, most of the near East spends this period invading its neighbours and infighting in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ummayad dynasty. Fortunately, the various peoples and factions kept excellent records of this. This is probably why they were able to preserve a lot of the knowledge that the West was busily washing away with blood and fire.


Eventually, this culminates in the formation of the Ottoman Empire, which advances the influence of the Umma and Near-Eastern civilisation using fire, the sword, education and health care. And fire and the sword.


Early on in this period, having sorted out who’s who in the zoo internally, the Christian Empires start looking abroad to see who they can beat the crap out of. This results in four Crusades. Some of these are in response to aggressive Moslem expansion, some because ‘Empire’.


A small island kingdom drafts a document intended to guarantee the freedom of all people who are not slaves, but, for the most part, this is the period where Christendom invades, enslaves and slaughters because God has told them to rid the holy lands of infidels.


Having finally sorted out who’s in charge of the Caliphate, the Moslem states spend these centuries fighting people who aren’t Moslem. Some of this is in response to Asian and Eurasian aggressive expansionism, but a fair amount of it is because ‘Empire’.


Finally, in 1916, the long-running collision with Christendom culminates in the collapse of the Caliphate and the carving up of its territories. All over the Moslem world, groups and nations fight tooth and nail against the Russians and the West because God has told them to rid the holy lands of infidels.

As we can see, there are some eerie parallels. Okay, admittedly, there are a lot of not so eerie ones too, largely due to the fact that the story of Islam and Christendom has often been a story or collision. The point is, though, that the Islamic world today is at almost exactly the same point as the Christian world was at a similar stage of development. Make of this what you will, but it does invalidate the specious and somewhat dimwitted idea that the central aim of the Islamic world is to turn back the clock.

Category: Islam, Politics


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